Eighteen months later
A petite young woman stood silhouetted against the rising sun. Her warm woolen coat hid her increasing belly to all but the most observant witnesses. The morning mist caressed her face softly, gently welcoming her into the quiet church yard. From the window of the grey stone parish church, her observer watched the vigil, repeating a common ritual. A familiar pull tugged at the vicar's heart. John Bradley pursed his lips and nodded his grey head. It is time.
Donning his coat, he reached for his cane. Ah, this old cane, my friend of the wintertime has come out again. Pulling on his new muffler, knitted for him by Pemberley's mistress and his wide brimmed hat, he pushed open the heavy wooden door. A chill wind buffeted him as he stepped into the morning. He pulled the muffler tighter around his neck. I am grateful for the hands that crafted this for me. She is a dear girl. The estate has felt her presence.
With unhurried steps, the vicar approached the young woman. For several minutes they stood in silence, side by side, contemplating the neat graves, two long set, two others much more recent, but showing signs of settling into the quiet repose of the family resting place.
She sighed sadly. "I can hardly believe they are gone."
"It is always a tragedy to lose a babe before he is churched," Bradley agreed softly. "I buried my daughter and her son before he was churched. I understand."
She turned to him, tears trickling down her cheeks. "I am so sorry that you do. I would not wish this pain on anyone." She looked back at the graves and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief. "Somehow I never expected to actually lose them, and so close together. Who would have thought?"
"Those were indeed dark and difficult days."
She wrapped her arms around her belly. "I think I would be more afraid if it were not for your comfort, Mr. Bradley."
"I am grateful to have been service."
They heard the iron gate swing open with a familiar screech. It closed again with am echoing clang. They turned to see a tall young man carrying a quiet baby in his arms. The child gazed up at the man with a smile and sparkling eyes.
"I think Bennet was pleased to go with me this morning," Darcy said softly as he came to stand beside his wife and Bradley. "His parents were pleased to know he will be well cared for while they visit your parents."
"I do believe you are correct, sir. He seems in quite good spirits." Bradley reached up to pat the boy's cheek, allowing the child the grab his finger and try to shove it in his mouth. "He is a dear child with such a sweet disposition."
"He reminds me of his mother," Elizabeth murmured, stroking Bennet's back. "She was a very sweet baby."
Darcy laid a warm hand on her shoulder. "Mary will be a good mother to him in her stead."
"And he will be a good son to her and Pierce." She looked up at him lovingly. "They all have you to thank for that."
Darcy shook his head, "She was my sister; I could have done no less. Would that I could have done more."
"What more was there to do?" She protested. "After she eloped with Lt. Harris we thought she was lost to us. None of us knew how to begin to find her. It was you and Richard who found her, widowed on the continent and brought her back to wait out her confinement here, among her sisters and away from the scandal that waited for her in Meryton." Tears choked her for a moment. "And it was you who insisted she be buried here, near the place where she found comfort in her last months." She leaned her head on his shoulder.
Bennet squirmed and reached out his arms for his aunt. Smiling indulgently, she took him from Darcy and kissed the baby's cheek. "He is such a cheerful boy, so much like Lydia. She was such a comfort to Mary, both of them sharing their confinement together."
"It was difficult to watch Mary struggle so," Darcy murmured somberly, glancing at his mother's grave.
"She was so hopeful after Lydia delivered so easily. None of us expected her to travail for two days. Yet it was Lydia we lost, not Mary." Elizabeth cuddled Bennet closer. "After all that, it seemed so cruel that Mary's son never took his first breath."
"No, dear, it was a mercy." Darcy shuddered slightly. "The child could not have lived long."
"I do not think Mary would have lived if Bennet had not needed her so desperately." Elizabeth glanced back at Bradley.
"In the midst of the tragedy, there was much to be grateful for. I feared I would have to bury another daughter that day." Bradley swallowed hard. "Instead, I have a grandson." He took the baby from Elizabeth. "God has been good to us. And God willing, in the spring, little Bennet will welcome his cousins."
"It is still difficult to imagine Richard a father." Darcy laughed.
"I suppose he says the same of you," Lizzy countered archly.
"That he does." Darcy laughed. "He might be insufferable if he had been the first to produce an heir but since we attribute that honor to Pierce now, his pride is under good regulation."
"I just received a letter from Louisa and one from Kitty, it seems there will be more cousins to welcome in the summer."
"Now Bingley I can picture as a father! I remember well watching him and Kitty playing with the Gardiner's children. I think I envied his ease with them." Darcy sighed wistfully.
"In that, I believe little Bennet has done you a world of good. You are quite comfortable with him now." Lizzy twined her fingers in his as she looked up and lost herself in his gaze.
Bradley watched them. You remind me so much of your parents. They would be so pleased to know that you have found what they did. Fitzwilliam, you are every bit the man your father was and more. He would be so proud.
Finally Lizzy felt the vicar's eyes on them, she giggled and broke away, taking the baby back.
"You are all men of good principles. I am grateful that I have been allowed to be here to help you pass them on to your children." Bradley straightened his coat and his muffler.
"As are we, sir." Lizzy leaned over and kissed the vicar's cheek.
Thanks for reading and hopefully enjoying.
I have place a copy of the original FFN version of Given Good Principles and If Only I had Learnt on Gumroad for you to down load and pay what you think it is worth. A number of you have asked for the original rather than the published version and I've finally found a way to make it happen. You an find it at: gumroad dot com forward slash mariagrace